This fourth and final film in the Hunger Games series, adapted from Suzanne Collins’s young adult fiction trilogy, has been one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year.
In the post-apocalyptic dystopia Panem 12 districts exist in varying states of poverty under the totalitarian power of the wealthy Capitol. Our hero is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who has taken the place of her sister to participate in an annual compulsory televised death-match called the Hunger Games. The dictatorship pits its citizens against each other as entertainment for the downtrodden population to distract them from their poverty.
The success of the franchise — the first three films have taken a total of over $1.5 billion at the box office — means that tens of millions of mainly young people will identify with protagonists who are fighting a revolution in order to overthrow their oppressors. The appeal of this is obvious. Quoted in the Guardian, producer of the Hunger Games franchise Nina Jacobson said, “One perspective about The Hunger Games is the feeling among the young that what awaits them in adulthood is very unforgiving. I get that. The world we’ve made for them is a harsh arena.”
The teens who have grown up reading the books and watching the films have also grown up in an era of unending “war on terror” and a rapidly widening gap between rich and poor. The fact that it is a young woman leading the revolution — and heading up a Hollywood action movie — is also something to celebrate.
Katniss Everdeen’s survival and defiance inspire a rebellion against the Capitol. She first becomes the figurehead of the rebellion and later takes a leading role in it. Initially plucked unwittingly from the masses, just doing what she can to stay alive, the reluctant hero goes on to turn the tables, aiming to shatter a ruthless society for the good of all.
The film is arrayed with strong female characters, from Everdeen herself to President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), rebel co-leader. But I found the resolution of the final film to hold a disappointingly conservative view of female fulfilment.
The terrible human cost of exploitation is touchingly conveyed as Peeta, one side of the love triangle that runs through the series, battles a mental breakdown. His situation could almost stand as a metaphor for contradictory consciousness as he struggles to determine what is real and not real, having been brainwashed by the Capitol in an attempt to assassinate Everdeen. Pollux, a cameraman for rebel propaganda, has to confront past demons when he revisits the tunnels where as a sanitation worker he was trapped underground without release for years.
Agitation consists of bombing a former mine, now a military base and source of weapons production, then calling on the survivors as they emerge to join the resistance.
As with pretty much all mainstream films, Hunger Games is centrally concerned with individual narratives and personal journeys in tyrannical times. Nonetheless, it has many attractive qualities that set it apart from other big budget franchises — a strong female lead who is not constantly fretting about her looks, rebellion against exploitation and repression as the plot, dealing with complex moral and political questions in a way most movies don’t attempt.
Hunger Games should be celebrated by everyone who would like to see more young women believe that their place is at the head of the movement.